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Blockchains

Whoa, what are they good for?

So, I’ve been reflecting, and in my last post, I seemed quite unenthusiastic about tech and food. Whilst some of the ideas I heard at LFTW were quite dystopian in bent I felt (but that could be because of my love of Sci-Fi literature, film, and TV), there were others that could help fix the issues in the food chain that we have these include: food wastage, climate change, monocropping (that’s where you have one plant, i.e. wheat, grown in acres of land with no bio-diversity), soil and water depletion. The idea that I want to tackle in this post is one that can be used in avoiding food wastage: blockchain technology.

Blockchain tech has been doing the rounds for a couple of years, mostly in the financial world. You might’ve heard about it in relation to Bitcoin. When I first heard about it – as a friend and I were discussing Bitcoin – I was genuinely confused, I don’t have a financial or hard sums background, if you have and I’ve got it wrong feel free to pipe up. However, from what I’ve gathered, it’s like a digital ledger. One that records the buyer and seller, but crucially every part of the information is encrypted separately to a networked system that then combines all the relevant information into one transaction. The “block” part of its title comes from how secure these bricks of information are, and how embedded they are in the “wall” of information, this promotes trustfulness in the consumer, as every transaction is transparent. This is how crypto-currencies like Bitcoin are maintained, the progress the coin makes from one wallet to another is transparent and trusted (Blockchain Definition | Investopedia n.d.).

Now that I’ve got the (probably not very good) brief explanation out of the way, I would like to concentrate on how it could affect the food industry. I had heard about blockchain technology before LFTW, but whilst I was attending there was a brief lecture about blockchains and wine, which ignited my curiosity and prompted me to investigate further. In the case of wine, this technology ensures the protection of the consumer against fraud (which is a big deal in the wine world – think art fraud but with more alcohol!), provenance, and authenticity (Blockchain Will Disrupt the Wine Industry Worldwide 2017). Now, that’s great for high-end investors in the wine industry but doesn’t really help either the regular Joe or the mainstream food industry. Provenance is part and parcel of the artisanal food trade and has been for a while, but it is less prevalent in the mainstream – though more and more consumers are demanding to know the provenance of their food – and blockchain could rectify that.

This is where food surplus and wastage comes in, not only does the technology help with buying, selling, security and transparency, but it also helps with a destination. Imagine that you are a banana farmer, you work hard and sell your bananas to a large supermarket in the UK, but due to some unforeseen circumstances your cargo of bananas sits on a hot, dusty runway for days and starts to spoil. Now, in these circumstances, there can be a way of avoiding the wastage of food – but it depends on people acting fast which unfortunately isn’t always the case. However, with blockchain technology, there can be a way of re-diverting this produce to another buyer, you (as the banana seller) cannot sell to a big supermarket, but you can sell to someone that creates something out of non-A-grade bananas (Snact: Delicious Food Waste Fighting Snacks. More Taste, Less Waste! n.d.). This is revolutionary.

To my mind, it’s not really the provenance, or the security, involved with blockchains that make it so revolutionary. It’s the up to date, real-time, tracking of produce that makes it so appealing. Within London, fighting food waste has trended, and there are numerous companies that participate in that arena, everything from discount surplus supermarkets, to pay-as-you-feel cafes, to community fridges and entrepreneurs turning something out of waste products and the supermarkets themselves helping cut down on wastage by donating to charity. But blockchains are different, they can be used to divert that produce to somewhere where it still has value and would help cut down wastage – in fact, take a step back and imagine a world with minimal wastage, nice isn’t it?

This is what technology offers the food system, and it’s why I am so enthused about it because we have so many issues surrounding what’s going wrong that it’s refreshing to have a semi-solution. One thing that I’m unsure of is how the technology could be adopted in a way that is widespread. From what I’ve learnt, different countries deal with technology in varying ways – regulation, legislation and so forth (see the dispute in London regarding Uber), and therefore these issues could be a stumbling block to the technology. There is the possibility that smaller organisations could leapfrog this regulation (The Blockchain: A Promising New Infrastructure for Online Commons | David Bollier n.d.), but this requires co-ordination and collaboration. Blockchain has to be proven successful in the food world – which it is seemingly doing with wine – before it gets adopted by more mainstream outfits and we see a trickle-down effect.


Housekeeping: I’ve decided to go back to my academic roots and properly cite and create a bibliography, the other way was just too messy.

Blockchain Definition | Investopedia

N.d. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/blockchain.asp, accessed November 10, 2017.

Blockchain Will Disrupt the Wine Industry Worldwide

2017 Wine Alchemy. https://www.winealchemy.co.uk/blockchain-future-wine-industry/, accessed November 10, 2017.

Snact: Delicious Food Waste Fighting Snacks. More Taste, Less Waste!

N.d. https://snact.co.uk/, accessed November 10, 2017.

The Blockchain: A Promising New Infrastructure for Online Commons | David Bollier

 N.d. http://www.bollier.org/blog/blockchain-promising-new-infrastructure-online-commons, accessed November 11, 2017.

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